Monday, November 30, 2009

West side of South Georgia, one million. Saturday, November 28.

Our first stop is at Gold Harbor on South Georgia. Staff had offered a landing before sunrise at 5:00AM (for the photographers who are looking for that “magic light”) but it was cloudy and raining. Rain stopped and we were on the beach by nine. Elephant seals, fur seals and king penguins. Lots of king penguins. The noise from the adults and the chicks were amazing. There were the creches of brown fluffy chicks making songbird like calls--waiting for mom or dad to come back and regurgitate a meal. The sailors who first saw them referred to them as “the okum boys” because they looked like the rope and tar caulk called okum that was used to fill cracks in ships. They look like a sea of brown with a black and white and orange adult scattered among them. I think I shout 400 pictures before I just put the camera away and just watched. The penguins (adults and chicks will walk to about two feet from you. If you sit down by a wiener seal (the young elephant seals) it is not unlikely they will come over and try to nurse you boot or your knee.

“The Government of South Georgia” is serious about enforcing the regulations for tourists. This site is has video surveillance from a number of points of view to insure tour groups stay out of restricted areas (sensitive animal habitats)

Much of the land beyond the beach is covered by tussoc grass. It is a challenge to walk through. Bev did and climbed a ridge to see a albatross nest with chicks. (She still needed binoculars).

Oceanites doesn’t count king penguins (not in their study plan) but Ron notes that they would be very hard to count. While the brush tail penguins (chinstrap, Adelie and gentoo penguins) all mate at the same time and the chicks leave the nest before winter, kings are on a 18 month breading cycle. Many times you will find single molting penguins, chicks, and pairs incubating an egg, all at the same colony.

In the afternoon we head to St. Andrews Bay. Elephant seals, fur seals, king penguins and reindeer. No tussoc grass at this location (the reindeer graze to the ground. We head off to the south following a naturalist. Go up a ridge and look down on the largest colony we’ve seen. Over 400,000 king penguins. The largest colony of kings on South Georgia. We have now seen over one million penguins.

While I’m writing this in the ship library, I’m watching four snowy-sheath-bills out the window. White birds about the size of a pigeon, a face sort of like a chicken and at first glance appear rather dumb and clumsy. But they are checking everything out. Pulling on wires, pecking at latches, tugging at straps (all on top of the enclosed life boats). They also are very coordinated--just saw one land while going backwards.

snowy sheath bill.

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